Giving the MVP trophy to somebody that’s going to play five minutes later is always a strange thing, and I’m much too disinterested to look into win-loss records after such activities, but the chance for overconfidence to collide with indignant aggression is about as good as it gets.
One way or another the Warriors had to bleed their own blood for the first time in these playoffs.
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WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN?
Mike Conley scored 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting with three treys and three assists over 27 minutes in Oracle last night but that’s not the whole story. That would be the fact he is precisely the type of defender that has slowed Stephen Curry in the past. And the fact he was able to play at such a high level with a broken face, a mask, two bad ankles, a bad foot and a lingering shooting wrist injury is nothing short of amazing. He won’t be underrated anymore. I think.
The series heads back to Memphis tied up at 1-1 after the Grizzlies’ win and the Warriors need to figure out what to do about their Klay Thompson problem, if it is indeed solvable. Tony Allen is custom-built to defend him and helped limit Thompson to 6-of-15 makes for 13 points, four rebounds and five turnovers. Courtney Lee also helped limit the Golden State guards in what could very well be the most effective unit in the league against this dynamic Warriors offense.
Curry hit just 7-of-19 shots for 19 points, five boards and six assists, and I thought Steve Kerr got too cute with the small lineups and was less focused on a potential mismatch he could have had leaving Curry on the court against peg-legged Beno Udrih. Having Memphis burn Conley’s minutes against Leandro Barbosa and Shaun Livingston sounds like a good plan to me, so he oughta consider staggering those minutes.
Andrew Bogut went for eight and 12 with one steal and one block in his 24 minutes, and Draymond Green played 38 minutes with 14 and 11 with two steals as the starting unit’s only holder of a positive plus-minus.
For Memphis, as Conley was the key to having a chance, then Tony Allen and Zach Randolph were the grit and the grind. Allen ran around the court like he owned Oracle and finished with four steals to go with nine points, four boards and two assists. Randolph looks as thin and athletic as I can recall and put up a swanky 20 points, seven boards, four assists and one steal on 7-of-16 shooting. Courtney Lee has reached Nic Batum levels of passive over time, but he was stepping into his 3-point looks and finished with 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting, two treys, two steals and a huge high-flying rebound in the second half.
On the other side, Marc Gasol started the game strong but looked winded late. He finished with 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, six boards, three assists and two steals, but had four turnovers to go with five fouls and the lowest plus-minus of the starting group by a large margin. When the Warriors went small he looked like he had control of the block but it was short-lived as he moved further and further away from the hoop, which he simply can’t do against the Dubs squad. Their only personnel weakness is their backup bigs, and both he and Randolph need to push Green and Bogut into foul trouble.
Jeff Green could be the biggest key for Memphis and not in a good way. He finished with eight points on 4-of-9 shooting, five boards and one assist in 26 minutes, but defensively there was a stretch of about 7-8 straight defensive possessions in which he looked lost. Offensively, he made up for some bad decisions with some tough makes, but that’s not a good long-term calculus. Memphis will have to come up with some creative lineups to keep him off the floor if these struggles continue, which is another reason that the Warriors should rethink going small.
It should be an electric environment in Memphis on Saturday, especially since Draymond took a cheap shot on Conley as he took a timeout on the ground. Be clear, I don’t particularly care that he did. It’s part of the game, but there’s not one ounce of me that believes he didn’t see ball and then head and think “BALL/HEAD!”
BREAKING: THE WIZARDS AREN’T AS GOOD WITHOUT JOHN WALL
I saw one team blogger on Twitter say it wasn’t a catastrophic situation that John Wall (non-shooting wrist) would miss Game 2, and my immediate thought was that’s what fan me might say if my favorite team was going to be turning to Ramon Sessions. Wall is pretty damn questionable for Game 3 as he took about one second during warm-ups to rule himself out after he tried to grip a basketball. He has said that there aren’t any breaks but this isn’t a mild injury, folks, otherwise he’d have played.
Ramon Sessions filled in admirably with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting, three treys, three boards and four assists, but he got a lot of friendly bounces and he’s not bending the defense at all. The difference in this game was ultimately turnovers, free throws and late-game defense, as each category betrayed the Wizards and the Hawks got a little bit of their momentum back.
The usual suspects all broke free for the Hawks, including Paul Millsap (18 points, 11 boards, five assists, four steals, 6-of-16 FGs) and DeMarre Carroll (22 points, six boards, four assists, one steal, one three). Longtime readers will know we’ve loved Carroll since his Utah days, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s criminally undervalued in free agency. But make no mistake, he’s going to get paid as a two-way player and it’s going to shock the casual fan. I think he *should* be in the $15 million for three years range in my mind as a starting point, with four years and $13 million also in my head on the low end. People will kick and scream but I’d pay him more than that with the TV revenue coming. Wings that can defend at a very high level, effeciently hit threes and help grease an offense are hard to find.
Al Horford got going with 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting, four rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks, while Kyle Korver hit 4-of-11 shots (all threes) for 12 and six, one steal and three blocks. Jeff Teague is probably the X-factor for this team as he’s the guy that needs to truly be a playmaker when things get tough. He has yet to truly assert himself, but the nine points on 3-of-12 shots with seven rebounds and eight assists aren’t anything to shake a stick at.
The Wizards got respectable contributions out of Marcin Gortat (10 points, nine boards) and Paul Pierce (15 points, five treys, five boards). Bradley Beal has a matchup advantage against Korver and his volume certainly reflected both that and Wall’s absence, but he was not efficient with 8-of-22 makes. Still, 20 points with five boards, seven assists, three steals and two treys show that the larger issues are team-wide with turnovers and defense, and no negative reports about his ankle could be the best news of the night for Wizards fans.
Otto Porter needs to be on fantasy owners’ radars heading into next year and in this season he is a vital piece of the Wizards’ postseason run. He logged another hefty 31 minutes last night with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, two treys, eight boards, five assists and three steals. Porter didn’t turn the ball over once and he’s stepping into a more prominent role precisely at the right pace. I talked with Michael Lee of the Washington Post the other day and it’s fair to say we both think he’ll be a solid player going forward.
Porter’s increased role has been a big reason the Wizards are surprising people, including Lee, and a big reason that Randy Wittman’s offense hasn’t been nearly as disastrous as it has been in the past. There are simply more playmakers on the floor as the Wizards trend toward smaller lineups, and if Wittman really wants to get some style points he’ll move Nene (two points, 0-for-5 FGs, four boards, four turnovers, 27 minutes) into a smaller role. Nene simply isn’t making the Hawks pay for their lack of size and he hasn’t shown much this season, let alone this series which has been a disaster.
Both teams get a very long rest until Saturday for Game 3 in Washington.
NEWS AND NOTES
Chris Paul (hamstring) has been downgraded to doubtful for tonight’s Game 2 against the Rockets, probably because the Rockets don’t have much of a chance in this series. They don’t match up well and they don’t have as much talent as the Clippers. They do have a puncher’s chance, but even if Paul was close to playing I wouldn’t be against them gambling here. They have practically no days off in this series and they need to be at 100 percent in the Western Conference Finals.
Derrick Rose (shoulder) will play tonight in Game 2 against the Cavs, which was never in doubt. The good news is that it doesn’t seem like there are any lasting effects from the injury, which is always a concern for Rose.